Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spotlight on: Author Thalia Chaltas

Okay, I'll admit it. Except for a brief fling with Bukowski soon after college, I have never owned a book of poetry.

So when a friend gave me BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE, a new novel written in verse by Santa Barbara author Thalia Chaltas, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard a lot about the book (it earned a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly) but I didn’t think it would be my thing.

How wrong I was. The story pulled me in from page one. I couldn’t stop reading until I was done and I’m still thinking about it. The confessional tone of the writing made me feel like I was reading a friend’s diary. Anke’s life is heartbreaking, but the thread of hope weaving its way through the narrative had me cheering for her all the way through.

This is Thalia’s first book and what a stunning debut! Read on to learn more about Thalia, her book and the connection between shoes and writing...

Novels in verse are not common. What inspired you to tell Anke’s story this way?

I wrote in verse because that is the way it came out of me. I actually think in groups of words, and tend to write most things in something that looks like free verse. If someone were to transcribe our trains of thought, it would most likely look like free verse!

But besides verse being the way my brain works, poetry works well for Anke's story because the subject matter is heavy and poetry is visually light. I could write about abuse in a descriptive way without spelling it out in blatant prose.

Will your next book be in verse as well?

At the moment, yes. Although my main character is very headstrong and she might change her mind. :)

How old were you when you wrote your first poem?
Elementary school, for sure. The first collection I made is from when I was about eleven, but I was certainly writing poetry before that. I actually have a very nicely naive poem about snow and Snoopy and Woodstock somewhere - that might be the first one I kept.

And you’ve kept every poem you’ve ever written? How many is that? How do you store them all?
Okay, I'm not counting how many! Lots and lots? When I was about eleven I started obsessing about keeping them all in one place so I wouldn't lose them. I copied them into a blank book as I wrote them, and I have four full blank books as of the time I went off to college. As an adult I haven't written them into books, since I have a computer. My blog is one way for keeping poetry experiments, as well.

BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE deals a very heavy issue that faces some teenagers. What made you decide to tackle such a difficult subject in a YA?
I think the subject decided to tackle me! I was raised in a house with an abusive father, and felt like furniture myself. I did not necessarily decide to write this novel, and it certainly is not an autobiography - I am very different from Anke. But it is the ultimate "write what you know" novel. I also believe that physical and sexual abuse are still not talked about enough, and if BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE opens that conversation between teens, that will be wonderful.

Since you grew up with an abusive father, was your family upset with this book even though it's fiction?
My brother and sister have been very supportive. My mom passed away some years ago, but I think she would be supportive and proud and sad all at the same time. Many family members have been impressed with the novel, and have steered away from the more emotional issue of what was behind the story, and who can blame them? Everyone has been supportive on the writing aspect, and I have not received negative reactions. I have never heard from my father, but I don't have contact with him, so that is not surprising.

How did you find a home for this book? Did you go the traditional agent/editor route?

I had the very good fortune to have been introduced to an agent by a member of one of my writer's groups. The agent did not like the manuscript at first, but three months later re-read it and asked if I wanted representation. That's called good luck coming atcha from several directions. Yes, I had to have a well-put-together manuscript, but much of that start was good luck. My agent, Ginger Knowlton, with Curtis Brown Ltd, gave the manuscript to two editors, and the first one hated it and the second one loved it and bought it. Art is in the eye of the beholder, indeed.

That's so unusual for an agent to change their mind about a book they've rejected! Did Ginger ever tell you what made her read the manuscript again?
She didn't get through the manuscript the first time she read it - but she said she didn't understand why she didn't like it the first time because the second time she loved it!

What has been your favorite experience as a new author?

One of my favorite experiences has been going into my favorite local indie bookstore, Chaucer's in Santa Barbara, and seeing my name on my novel in the YA section. When I saw my book in Barnes & Noble, it looked out of place to me at first, but seeing it in my own bookstore was priceless. Teary eyed and everything.

Which authors/poets have inspired you as a writer?
Well, I'll be brief with this one! Sonya Sones, Ellen Hopkins, Patty McCormick, Ogden Nash, ee cummings, Issa, Edgar A. Poe, Charles Simic...and those are just a few of the poets.

How old is your daughter? Has she read the book? What did she think?
My daughter is 5 years old and although it is not appropriate material for her to read (even if she could read it), she is one very proud daughter! She accompanied me to both my launch here in Santa Barbara and the launch in New Hampshire, and took part in every aspect of sending this book on its path now that it's in print. She even sang a launch song to me in front of over fifty people!

On your website you list some of the places where you write. Which is your favorite place to write? Why?
My favorite changes in swaths of months or so. Recently the library seems to be the best place for me to write. It's quiet and dull in a cubicle and I get loads of writing done.

Are you a binge writer or do you write every day?
I am a binge writer who would love to write more regularly! At one point I thought "If I just write one poem a day, I'd have a hefty novel by the end of a year." Which is all very nice, but who writes one poem a day? I am often gathering information some days and writing five or six poems the next. The regularity doesn't seem to be my norm, although it sounds very organized.

If you had to give up home made vanilla bean ice cream or volleyball, which would you choose?
I would have to give up the ice cream. Volleyball is necessary for my well being. Ice cream is a delicious addition to the necessaries in my life.

Do you have any words of advice for writers who'd like to be in your shoes?
I wear a size 10. Rarely pointy, never stilettos. Often sneakers. Other than that, my advice is to write and read, and the only one who can tell your story with your flair is you; stay with your own style of shoes. Write and read. Write and read. Wear your own shoes, no one else's.

Read an excerpt from Because I am Furniture.
Visit Thalia's website.
Visit Thalia's poetry blog.


Carrie Harris said...

I will absolutely pick this up! I recently read Shark Girl and am now hooked on books in verse! Thanks for the fabulous interview!

Rebecca Gomez said...

Sounds like a great read. I love books in verse and am currently writing one myself. Here are a couple of suggestions if you want to read more verse: Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse and Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech.

Kelly Polark said...

Ohhhh! I can be in her shoes! I'm a size 10 too! :)
Great interview...Hey Sherrie, you should link this on Poetry Friday today at irene latham's blog since it is related. Go to her site and leave your url in her comment box.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Carrie - I've been hearing about Shark Girl. I'll have to check that out.

Rebecca - Thanks for the suggestions!

Kelly - I'll bet you've got some cute shoes, too :^) I'll go check Irene Latham's blog. Thanks!

PJ Hoover said...

I'm seeing this book everywhere! And everyone has raved about it.

Barbara Bietz said...

Thanks, Sherrie!

Lovely interview with Thalia.

Kelly H-Y said...

Wow ... I'm intrigued by this book. What a fantastic interview, and such a neat response by her 5-year old daughter! Thanks for sharing this!

Tana said...

Wow I loved this! I'm checking out her book at Amazon. Thank you!

Robin L said...

Great interview, Sherrie! And great answers, Thalia. :-)

This book knocked my socks off. Loved it. A LOT.

Patty Palmer said...

Fantastic interview, Sherrie. I LOVE this book and keep it on my desk just to re-read again and again. Like you Sherrie, I never thought I'd be so enraptured by a book written in verse, but this book did it. It's really powerful. Gosh, I could go on and on...

Irene Latham said...

Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention! I am a big fan of verse novels and am always happy to find more on the shelves.


Sherrie, thanks for allowing me to be a guest and putting together a marvelous interview!

And all of you here, thanks for the good words. This has been a wonderful start to what I hope is a long writing journey...


Anonymous said...

I loved this! Thanks!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Wonderful interview! So happy for Thalia - hope the book is a HUGE success!

Barrie said...

Great review and interview. Thank you.

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